By Maggie Fick and Shaimaa Fayed
CAIRO | Mon Jul 29, 2013 5:34am EDT
(Reuters) – The European Union’s foreign policy chief was in Cairo on Monday, the first senior overseas envoy to visit Egypt’s new rulers since the weekend killing of at least 80 supporters of the country’s deposed Islamist president.
The dawn killings on Saturday have triggered global anxiety that the Arab world’s most populous country faces wider conflagration after the military overthrow of Mohamed Mursi on July 3.
Catherine Ashton, the EU’s chief diplomat, was scheduled to meet General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the head of the Egyptian armed forces who ousted Mursi, interim President Adli Mansour and officials of the Freedom and Justice Party, the Muslim Brotherhood’s political wing.
In a statement, Ashton said she would press for a “fully inclusive transition process, taking in all political groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood.”
It was unclear what leverage Ashton has. The United States is Egypt’s chief Western backer and source of military aid, but the EU is the biggest civilian aid donor to Egypt.
The EU has attempted to mediate in Egypt’s political crisis over the past six months as Egyptians have grown increasingly suspicious of U.S. involvement.
Underscoring the risk of more bloodshed, several thousand supporters of Mursi’s Muslim Brotherhood threatened to march on the military’s intelligence headquarters in defiance of a warning from the army to stay away.
They turned back early on Monday, having left the site of a Brotherhood vigil in northern Cairo chanting, “Our blood and souls we sacrifice for Mursi.”
More marches were planned for Monday evening.
“The danger we face because of the political situation and the coup is greater than the violence we face in marches,” said Brotherhood member Islam Tawfiq, 26.
Tawfiq was among thousands of supporters of Mursi camped out at the Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque in northern Cairo demanding the reinstatement of Egypt’s first freely elected president.
The health ministry said on Monday that 80 people were killed in the early hours of Saturday, up from a previous toll of 72, when security forces opened fire on marchers.
Egypt’s army-installed authorities have vowed to clear them from the site after complaints from residents about the huge encampment on their doorstep.
Mursi has been in army detention since he was ousted and the military-backed interim government has placed him under investigation on charges that include murder.
The handling of him by the military – recipient of more than $1 billion a year in U.S. military aid – suggests confidence it has the support of the majority of Egyptians, who turned out in huge numbers to protest against the Islamist leader before the army moved against him.
Other Brotherhood leaders are also being held, and in the early hours of Monday police arrested two senior members of the Islamist Wasat Party, allies of Mursi, the MENA state news agency reported.
The round-up of Islamist leaders and Saturday’s dawn killings have stirred fears that the military plans to drive the Muslim Brotherhood back underground, risking more instability in the country of 84 million people, a bridge between the Middle East and North Africa.
The Brotherhood spent decades in the shadows before taking power on the back of the uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak in 2011. It lasted a year in government, before the army shunted it aside.
Sisi, who was appointed by Mursi only to turn against him months later, made his first appearance on Sunday since the killings, smiling before television cameras at a graduation ceremony for police recruits.
He received a standing ovation and was hailed by Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim as “Egypt’s devoted son.”
The military says it does not want to retain power and aims to hand over to full civilian rule with a “road map” to parliamentary elections in about six months.
But the very public role of Sisi as face of the new order has sown doubts about the army’s intentions, and the Brotherhood says it wants nothing to do with his road map.
Speaking to Reuters on Sunday, interim Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy said deepening divisions would lead to “more tragedies.” He blamed the Brotherhood for the violence, but said they should be part of the country’s political future.
(Additional reporting by Tom Perry, Michael Georgy, Matt Robinson, Asma Alsharif and Yasmine Saleh; Writing by Matt Robinson; Editing by Giles Elgood)